14:36 PM

I’ll Be Back

Store manager shot in armed robbery vows to return to work and family after completing rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury.

When he puts his hand on his side, Albert McDuffie can feel the armed robber’s bullet resting just beneath his skin.

“I don’t even think I’m going to take it out,” says Albert, 31, of Washington, D.C. “It’s just something that happened. I don’t look at it as a bad thing. I just look at it as a life-changer.”

Life changed for Albert on April 13, 2012 at the Rite-Aid drug store he managed in D.C. He complied with an intruder’s demand that he open the cash drawer, but Albert was shot anyway. The bullet ruptured his spleen, nicked a kidney and sprayed bone debris into his spinal cord. (The robbery was caught on video, and police arrested a suspect soon afterward.)

A T-11 incomplete spinal cord injury paralyzed Albert from the waist down. After receiving acute care at Washington Hospital Center, Albert’s workers’ compensation carrier referred him to Shepherd Center. He was admitted on April 25, and attentive care started within minutes of his arrival, he recalls.

“I met doctors, nurses, therapists, the counselor who then saw me every day,” Albert says. “I’m lying in the bed, and I’ve got probably eight to 10 people in my room with me. Everybody introduced themselves and put their name on the board. That stuck with me right there because it let me know I was in a caring facility.”

His treatment began with therapists stretching his legs. He couldn’t feel anything, but on the third or fourth day, there was a “flicker” in his right thigh.

“I didn’t see it, but my occupational therapist saw it, and my aunt saw it,” Albert says. “I was like ‘What happened?’ and I looked down and saw it. I was like ‘Wow!’ That put a smile on my face.”

He learned to use a wheelchair, but he was determined to walk. He tackled that goal in Shepherd’s day program, moving to an apartment in the adjacent Woodruff Family Residence Center with his mother just a month after arriving at the hospital.

Before long, Albert was on the parallel bars doing what he calls “the Frankenstein walk.” He started walking slowly and stiff-legged like the movie monster because of long braces to help support his weight. And like the monster, he got an electrical boost from an electrical stimulation device called the Bioness L300 Plus.

“I have electrodes connected to my right leg – two attached to my thigh and a sensor in my left foot,” he explains. “So when I take a step with my left foot, it knows my right foot is back. It knows to trigger the electrode to tense the muscle.”

Albert McDuffie, 31, of Washington, D.C., sustained an SCI in April 2012 when he was shot during a robbery at a Rite Aid store he managed. He is undergoing rehabilitation, including aquatic therapy at Shepherd Center. Albert has strong support from his family including his mother, fiancee and children. He is participating in Beyond Therapy® now.

With the mechanical and electrical help, plus a therapist behind him to help move his legs, he made quick progress. In three weeks, he graduated again to Shepherd Center’s Beyond Therapy® program, commuting from an apartment he shares with his mother less than a mile from the hospital.

His fianceé, Elysia Morgan, is in graduate school in California, so he has had to rely on two visits and many video chats with her and their 1-year-old daughter, Aaliyah.

“I was at first very apprehensive about being so far away from him,” Elysia says, “but the staff at Shepherd Center has been an extended family to him. They’ve embraced us and our daughter.”

Albert got a boost in the summer when his 11-year-old son, Jeline, and 10-year-old nephew, Daevian Grinnage, arrived from Washington for a long visit. The family went to Six Flags Over Georgia to celebrate Albert’s 31st birthday in July 2012. At Shepherd, the boys helped Albert do his exercises.

He could see constant progress. When he entered Beyond Therapy®, he could use a walker for “maybe seven or eight steps, and I was done.” By October 2012, he was using a walker with no hands-on assistance from a therapist. The electrical stimulus continued, but he estimated “the quads on my left are pretty much 100 percent, and the quads on my right are probably 70 percent.”

He was thrilled on the day he could walk from one end of the Shepherd Center basketball court to the other, he recalls.

Albert misses home and family, but he is determined to stay in Beyond Therapy® as long as his improvement continues. He says Rite-Aid has promised a job when he can return. And he has started looking at coursework to finish his college degree.

Career goals and motivation are important in tailoring each client’s therapy, says Heddi Silon, director of workers’ compensation care at Shepherd Center.

“He’s a strong, very motivated, independent man,” Silon says of Albert.

He has kept the resolution he made to be strong when he saw the shocked expressions of family and co-workers in the intensive care unit on the day of the shooting.

“My whole outlook was, I’m still here, I’m still alive. I’ll beat this. I’ll be back 100 percent, no doubt,’” Albert adds.

Written by David Simpson
Photos by Louie Favorite

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.